In an ecosystem notorious for constant managerial and player upheavals, Bengaluru FC (BFC) represents continuity. It can be seen in the strong core of players it has always sought to retain with the most recent example being that of Miku, the Venezuelan striker who starred with 20 goals in 2017-18, staying put despite intense transfer speculation.
Another of those stabilising factors is the newly-appointed coach, Carles Cuadrat, who was the trusted aide to BFC’s coach for the last two years, Albert Roca. It will be under the Catalan’s stewardship that the club will open its 2018-19 campaign with the first leg of the AFC Cup inter-zonal semifinal against Turkmenistan’s Altyn Asyr FK at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Wednesday.
“There isn't much difference in the playing styles [compared to Roca’s],” said skipper Sunil Chhetri. “He was an important member in shaping the way we played under Roca. Of course he has some unique ideas, but the philosophy is progressive. We are not learning something completely new. We’re just going to the next level.”
To gauge this, Altyn Asyr offers an interesting test. The team may be making its debut in the knockout round of the continental competition but is a four-time defending champion of its domestic league and is well-placed for a fifth, halfway into the season. It has the best offensive record back home, scoring 31 goals from 16 games.
Last year, BFC was eliminated in the inter-zonal playoff final by a similar Central Asian side, Tajikistan’s Istiklol FC. In 2016, it succumbed to West Asian outfit Air Force Club, which played a kind of football BFC had never encountered before.
Cuadrat was the assistant coach then and probably sensed what needed to be done. This resulted in a pre-season tour of Spain this time around, where matches against strong ‘B’ teams of Villarreal and Barcelona were organised.
“The games we had in Spain were tough with not a lot of chances to score,” said Cuadrat. “If you go back to last year [Istiklol], it was tough. One goal would change everything. It is very difficult to play those kind of games. We will try and do our best now.”
“At home, we back ourselves against anybody,” said Chhetri, perhaps alluding to the fact that BFC has been unbeaten in 14 AFC Cup games at home, stretching back to March 2016. “We have to be careful and not concede an away goal. But it won’t be only about not conceding. We are generally dominant at home and a lot of homework has been done.”